Managing Secrets in Terraform

Managing Secrets in Terraform

Announcing Secrets Management for Terraform: Remove secrets from . tfvars files; Share the . tfstate file securely; Protect provider credentials; Eliminate secret sprawl when running Terraform in CI/CD. Terraform is one of the top tools when it comes to implementing infrastructure as code, and with secrets, you can ensure meticulous security.

Terraform is one of the top tools available on the market to use if you want to manage and implement infrastructure as code. Terraform does more than just configuration. The platform is capable of handling the entire orchestration runtime using declarative code instead of a procedural one. There is no need to go through a complex setup process either.

Terraform has a few aces up its sleeve, including its support for immutable infrastructure. You don’t have to destroy and rebuild every instance with the updates you push to the cloud. Persistent storage and other immutable resources can also be managed from within Terraform. As an added bonus, there are multiple ways to integrate Terraform into existing pipelines.

The real challenge is making sure that infrastructure as code remains secure, and that means managing strings, parameters, and more importantly secrets, meticulously. You cannot just display the credentials for your master user as username = user and password = pass. So, how can secrets be managed in Terraform?

Basic Principles

Before we get to how to best manage secrets in Terraform, there are a few basic principles that we need to get out of the way first, starting with the fact that you must never put secrets in your .tf files. This is a big no, regardless of how the secrets are added. .tf files can be made public, and that poses a serious security risk to the entire cloud infrastructure.

You must also avoid storing secrets as plain text. This too is something that many infrastructure administrators and developers still neglect. No matter how secure the source file may be, adding secrets as plain text creates a security hole you cannot always plug. This includes when secrets are stored in .tfvars file.

It is also worth mentioning that terminals that have accessed your repository may already have a copy of your secrets stored on a local hard drive. If you have stored secrets in your .tf files or used plain text before, the first thing you want to do is regenerate your keys. This ensures maximum safety. This step also needs to be completed if you use tools like Jenkins.

Securing Terraform

The next preparation to make is Terraform itself. You need to make sure that your Terraform instance is running securely, and that is done by making sure that your .tfstate files are not accessible. At the very least, you want to be very strict with who has access to .tfstate files. It is also recommended to encrypt these files and to manage your Terraform state more carefully.

The latter is actually very important. Services like S3 and GCS all support native encryption, but encryption alone is not enough if the .tfstate files are accessible from the outside. There are two ways you can isolate your state files, with the first one being isolation through workspaces. You simply specify a workspace so that the default one doesn’t get used all the time.

Another way to secure Terraform states is by isolating them using a suitable file layout. In essence, you create multiple environments for multiple files, allowing State files to be stored separately from production code and other resources. This too adds an extra layer of control and allows you to protect Terraform states better.

security terraform programming developer

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